The Sea-Wolf


Jack London

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Self-Reliance and Maturation Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Self-Reliance and Maturation Theme Icon
Materialism vs. Idealism Theme Icon
Survival of the Fittest Theme Icon
Love, Duty, and Choice Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Sea-Wolf, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Self-Reliance and Maturation Theme Icon

Jack London’s The Sea-Wolf is the story of a rich intellectual named Humphrey Van Weyden who, over the course of a long stay on a seal-hunting vessel called the Ghost, learns how to do the hard manual labor that working on a ship requires. Though many of the new skills Van Weyden learns are physical, perhaps even more significant is the mental change that occurs in him as he learns how to better survive in the world without the help of others. Van Weyden’s mentor for many of these lessons is Wolf Larsen, the ship’s fearsome but surprisingly well-read captain. Wolf Larsen alternates between praising Van Weyden and treating him cruelly, all supposedly with the goal of helping Van Weyden to “stand on [his] own legs” instead of the “dead man’s legs” of his wealthy father, who provided Van Weyden with an inheritance that ensured Van Weyden didn’t have to work.

While Van Weyden becomes more self-reliant over the course of the book, he also becomes more comfortable with violence, at one point personally clubbing several small seals. Crucially, however, Van Weyden never goes as far as Wolf Larsen—at the end of the book, when Van Weyden has a chance to shoot an unarmed Wolf Larsen, he chooses not to do so, even though he knows Wolf Larsen would shoot him if their roles were reversed. This demonstrates how, as Van Weyden nears the end of his journey to maturation, he has learned to step beyond the teachings of his mentor and truly stand on his own. The journey of personal growth that Van Weyden undergoes in The Sea-Wolf shows how a person needs self-reliance to survive in a cruel world. At the same time, though, the book also suggests that maturation can also involve a loss of innocence—and even an embrace of cynicism, as embodied by Wolf Larsen and his melancholy moods.

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Self-Reliance and Maturation Quotes in The Sea-Wolf

Below you will find the important quotes in The Sea-Wolf related to the theme of Self-Reliance and Maturation.
Chapter 1 Quotes

I scarcely know where to begin, though I sometimes facetiously place the cause of it all to Charley Furuseth’s credit. He kept a summer cottage in Mill Valley, under the shadow of Mount Tamalpais, and never occupied it except when he loafed through the winter months and read Nietzsche and Schopenhauer to rest his brain.

Related Characters: Humphrey Van Weyden (speaker), Wolf Larsen
Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:

But life and death were in that glance. I could see the vessel being swallowed up in the fog; I saw the back of the man at the wheel, and the head of the other man turning, slowly turning, as his gaze struck the water and casually lifted along it toward me. His face wore an absent expression, as of deep thought, and I became afraid that if his eyes did light upon me he would nevertheless not see me. But his eyes did light upon me, and looked squarely into mine; and he did see me, for he sprang to the wheel, thrusting the other man aside, and whirled it round and round, hand over hand, at the same time shouting orders of some sort. The vessel seemed to go off at a tangent to its former course and leapt almost instantly from view into the fog.

Related Characters: Humphrey Van Weyden (speaker), Wolf Larsen
Related Symbols: Seals
Page Number: 6
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3 Quotes

Who earned it? Eh? I thought so. Your father. You stand on dead men’s legs. You’ve never had any of your own. You couldn’t walk alone between two sunrises and hustle the meat for your belly for three meals. Let me see your hand.

Related Characters: Wolf Larsen (speaker), Humphrey Van Weyden
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 4 Quotes

He absurdly insisted upon my addressing him as Mr. Mugridge, and his behaviour and carriage were insufferable as he showed me my duties. Besides my work in the cabin, with its four small state-rooms, I was supposed to be his assistant in the galley, and my colossal ignorance concerning such things as peeling potatoes or washing greasy pots was a source of unending and sarcastic wonder to him. He refused to take into consideration what I was, or, rather, what my life and the things I was accustomed to had been.

Related Characters: Humphrey Van Weyden (speaker), Thomas Mugridge
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 5 Quotes

“I believe that life is a mess,” he answered promptly. “It is like yeast, a ferment, a thing that moves and may move for a minute, an hour, a year, or a hundred years, but that in the end will cease to move. The big eat the little that they may continue to move, the strong eat the weak that they may retain their strength. The lucky eat the most and move the longest, that is all. What do you make of those things?”

Related Characters: Wolf Larsen (speaker), Humphrey Van Weyden
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 6 Quotes

I have made the acquaintance of another one of the crew,—Louis he is called, a rotund and jovial-faced Nova Scotia Irishman, and a very sociable fellow, prone to talk as long as he can find a listener. In the afternoon, while the cook was below asleep and I was peeling the everlasting potatoes, Louis dropped into the galley for a “yarn.” His excuse for being aboard was that he was drunk when he signed. He assured me again and again that it was the last thing in the world he would dream of doing in a sober moment. It seems that he has been seal-hunting regularly each season for a dozen years, and is accounted one of the two or three very best boat-steerers in both fleets.

Related Characters: Humphrey Van Weyden (speaker), Louis, Wolf Larsen
Related Symbols: Seals
Page Number: 36
Explanation and Analysis:

Where there is room for one life, she sows a thousand lives, and it’s life eats life till the strongest and most piggish life is left.

Related Characters: Wolf Larsen (speaker), Humphrey Van Weyden
Page Number: 44
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 8 Quotes

“One hundred and eighty-five dollars even,” he said aloud. “Just as I thought. The beggar came aboard without a cent.”

“And what you have won is mine, sir,” I said boldly.

He favoured me with a quizzical smile. “Hump, I have studied some grammar in my time, and I think your tenses are tangled. ‘Was mine,’ you should have said, not ’is mine.’”

Related Characters: Humphrey Van Weyden (speaker), Wolf Larsen (speaker), Thomas Mugridge
Page Number: 51
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 10 Quotes

“No,” Wolf Larsen answered, with an indescribable air of sadness. “And he is all the happier for leaving life alone. He is too busy living it to think about it. My mistake was in ever opening the books.

Related Characters: Wolf Larsen (speaker), Death Larsen, Humphrey Van Weyden
Page Number: 66
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 11 Quotes

“You are afraid of him now. You are afraid of me. You cannot deny it. If I should catch you by the throat, thus,”—his hand was about my throat and my breath was shut off,—“and began to press the life out of you thus, and thus, your instinct of immortality will go glimmering, and your instinct of life, which is longing for life, will flutter up, and you will struggle to save yourself. Eh? I see the fear of death in your eyes.”

Related Characters: Wolf Larsen (speaker), Humphrey Van Weyden
Page Number: 70
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 12 Quotes

The last twenty-four hours have witnessed a carnival of brutality. From cabin to forecastle it seems to have broken out like a contagion.

Page Number: 72
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 14 Quotes

Then Wolf Larsen’s other hand reached up and clutched the edge of the scuttle. The mass swung clear of the ladder, the men still clinging to their escaping foe. They began to drop off, to be brushed off against the sharp edge of the scuttle, to be knocked off by the legs which were now kicking powerfully.

Related Characters: Humphrey Van Weyden (speaker), Wolf Larsen, Johnson, Johansen, George Leach
Page Number: 90
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 18 Quotes

She seemed to me like a being from another world. I was aware of a hungry out-reaching for her, as of a starving man for bread. But then, I had not seen a woman for a very long time. I know that I was lost in a great wonder, almost a stupor,—this, then, was a woman?—so that I forgot myself and my mate’s duties, and took no part in helping the new-comers aboard.

Page Number: 116
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 27 Quotes

I looked at my watch. It was one o’clock. I had slept seven hours! And she had been steering seven hours! When I took the steering-oar I had first to unbend her cramped fingers. Her modicum of strength had been exhausted, and she was unable even to move from her position. I was compelled to let go the sheet while I helped her to the nest of blankets and chafed her hands and arms.

Related Characters: Humphrey Van Weyden (speaker), Maud Brewster, Wolf Larsen
Related Symbols: Wind
Page Number: 175
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 30 Quotes

“We must club the seals,” I announced, when convinced of my poor marksmanship. “I have heard the sealers talk about clubbing them.”

Related Characters: Humphrey Van Weyden (speaker), Maud Brewster
Related Symbols: Seals
Page Number: 190
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 32 Quotes

“Hump,” he said slowly, “you can’t do it. You are not exactly afraid. You are impotent. Your conventional morality is stronger than you.”

Related Characters: Wolf Larsen (speaker), Humphrey Van Weyden , Maud Brewster, Death Larsen
Page Number: 202
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 33 Quotes

Giving over his attempt to determine the shadow, he stepped on deck and started forward, walking with a swiftness and confidence which surprised me. And still there was that hint of the feebleness of the blind in his walk. I knew it now for what it was.

Related Characters: Humphrey Van Weyden (speaker), Wolf Larsen, Maud Brewster
Page Number: 210
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 37 Quotes

“I am still a bit of the ferment, you see,” he wrote a little later.

“I am glad you are as small a bit as you are,” I said.

“Thank you,” he wrote. “But just think of how much smaller I shall be before I die.”

Related Characters: Wolf Larsen (speaker), Humphrey Van Weyden (speaker), Maud Brewster
Page Number: 235
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 38 Quotes

“And immortality?” Maud queried loudly in the ear.

Three times the hand essayed to write but fumbled hopelessly. The pencil fell. In vain we tried to replace it. The fingers could not close on it. Then Maud pressed and held the fingers about the pencil with her own hand and the hand wrote, in large letters, and so slowly that the minutes ticked off to each letter:


Related Characters: Maud Brewster (speaker), Wolf Larsen (speaker), Humphrey Van Weyden
Page Number: 236
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 39 Quotes

“One kiss, dear love,” I whispered. “One kiss more before they come.”

“And rescue us from ourselves,” she completed, with a most adorable smile, whimsical as I had never seen it, for it was whimsical with love.

Related Characters: Humphrey Van Weyden (speaker), Maud Brewster (speaker), Wolf Larsen
Related Symbols: Wind
Page Number: 244
Explanation and Analysis: